My daddy was from Rocky Mount,
my momma from Conway.
They didn’t have a dollar between them.
Rob Williams is a natural storyteller. In the opening lines to his latest record, An Hour Before Daylight, Williams introduces his origins in a smart, buoyant style that continues throughout the record. His interest in history, which informs many of the songs on this new record, is not based in facts and figures but rather in the personal, exploring specific characters and how they are affected by circumstances and changes throughout their lives. An Hour Before Daylight excels in its offering of compelling stories, each sung in Williams’ smooth and slightly raspy voice over loose but well-shaped arrangements featuring classic Americana instrumentation. The result of these elements is the kind of record that you leave playing in your car for the whole drive from Brooklyn to San Diego because you’re never not in the mood to hear them.
With early influences like REM and the Beatles, Williams’ music has migrated from his first shows playing in Contoocook Line and later fronting Joe Buck, Jr., (bands through which Williams released four studio albums), to his current career as a singer/songwriter in the Americana space with a growing fanbase in the Southeast. His first solo release, A Place in the Sun, was “an acoustic project complemented by a full band” which blended alt-rock, Americana, and country elements. In 2015, Williams released his second solo album Southern FM recorded in Dallas with a bevy of beloved local talents, demonstrating his ability to produce expansive and nuanced acoustic roots rock.
These days Williams is focused on crafting interesting and relatable narratives, citing Craig Finn (frontman of indie rock group The Hold Steady) as a recent inspiration: “It’s not really a style of music that I listened to in the past, but I love the stories he creates. They’re like character studies. I’ve been much more engaged with story and character lately.” An Hour Before Daylight, William’s third solo album, reveals this growing passion in its succinct and gripping narratives, stories as dynamic as the human emotional landscape and at the same time clean, clear, and straightforward in their presentation. “There are certain boundaries for songs, as opposed to storytelling, that help you make choices. There are only a certain number of syllables in a line, for example. So you have to be choosey. Finding just the right word to fit in a line or phrase becomes important.”
There is an ease and brightness in Williams’ songwriting that blends the relaxed, free-wheeling feel of old classic country with a new, more modern intelligence. His dexterity with rhyme makes his storytelling feel natural, while the subjects addressed in An Hour Before Daylight range from loneliness to lies to Greek mythological figures to a sociopolitical drama of miners in Butte, Montana. His background in education (he earned a doctorate in educational leadership) is evident in his lyrics, but their cleverness is not overbearing or stiff. Each song reveals more of Williams’ emotional capacity to understand and empathize with a wide variety of human conditions. His songs are of and for real people.
Williams is currently heading back into the studio in Richmond to record his fourth solo album, which will be released sometime in 2020. “This time we’re preparing ahead of time, just to try something different!” Catch Williams on tour in the Northeast this summer, or next fall during a brief regional tour of the West.